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The Young Academy: austerity plans detrimental to Dutch higher education and research

June 06, 2024

The Academy and The Young Academy are deeply concerned about the austerity plans for higher education and research proposed in the outline coalition agreement of 16 May 2024.

The plans involve:

  • A structural budget cut of €215 million in the sector plans. In practical terms, this means cancelling funding for 1200 permanent contracts that have only just been offered to the same number of university lecturers. Universities hired these lecturers as permanent staff to reduce the extremely heavy workload and to ensure the quality of education and research. By first asking universities to use the allocated sector plan funding to appoint many hundreds of staff and then, less than two years later, scrapping the same funding, the government is showing itself to be an untrustworthy partner.
  • A year-on-year reduction of €150 million in the Fund for Research and Science. The fund (approximately €500 million total per annum) basically provides structural support for curiosity-driven research at research universities and regional universities of applied sciences. However, it also promotes knowledge security, open science and social safety, all issues about which the government has made agreements with the universities.
  • Cancelling the National Growth Fund’s final two allocation rounds. This will undermine the Netherlands’ innovativeness and, consequently, its investment climate for innovative enterprises. It will also impact the ability of public knowledge institutions to work with the private sector on innovative solutions to the major challenges that society faces going forward. 
  • PWC calculated in 2021 that universities in the Netherlands had been structurally underfunded in the preceding years. Investment in the sector plans, the Fund for Research and Science and the National Growth Fund is part of a package of financial measures meant to address this situation. It also represented major progress towards achieving the Lisbon target of spending at least 3% of GDP on R&D, an area in which the Netherlands still lags significantly behind neighbouring countries, even with this investment. In cutting these budgets, we are making a U-turn and thus sacrificing the opportunity to preserve our prosperity and wellbeing and effectuate critical societal change.
  • Finally, we are deeply concerned about any further curtailment of the open international science system that has made Dutch science and scholarship so robust (for example by slashing the number of international students in the Netherlands). This will severely undermine the Netherlands' ability to attract international talent. We are already noticing that talented international researchers and students around us are starting to wonder whether the Netherlands is still such an attractive place to work and study. 

The Academy and The Young Academy urge the coalition partners to reconsider these austerity measures, which are not explained in the text of their outline agreement. They are detrimental to higher education and research and undercut the Netherlands' aim of strengthening the knowledge economy. The Academy and The Young Academy would of course be happy to work with the new government to identify ways of safeguarding the quality of higher education and research in the Netherlands.



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